The Good Sower, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2017

Proper 10

[RCL:] Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus has such a heart for his church.  In this parable and its explanation, he’s not only addressing his first disciples but, as with all scripture, he’s addressing us too.  This parable could be a way to get us to do a little soil sampling of our hearts, a little analysis to see what kind of ground we are for seed-reception. This parable could be an invitation to ask ourselves, how can we make the soil of our hearts more fertile, more ready to receive the seed that is the word of the kingdom? How can we be the good soil so we can produce grain a hundredfold, and be part of a great agricultural ripple effect that makes more and more seed, that can be sown near and far and take root in places we may never dream of?  How can we clear our little patch of ground of stones and be strengthened to endure even persecution for the sake of the gospel?  How can we root out the thorns of worldly busyness, worry, self-interest, pettiness, and greed, so the word of the kingdom can abide with us, settle deep in us, make a home in us, and bear fruit? These are good questions, and if being good soil is the goal, there is help for us.

Gardeners and farmers tell us that soil that is good for planting has particular characteristics: good soil has a lot of humus—decayed material like grass roots and leaves—that encourages good nutrients, good drainage and good aeration. Good soil has room for water and air to move through it and get to seeds and plant roots. And although it seems like it’s just an inert substance, good soil is full of life.  For instance, earthworms burrow through soil, carrying away dead matter and taking needed material from the surface of the soil down deep where it can decompose and make more rich humus.  In some places, good soil for planting exists because fire has burned off saplings, preventing forests from growing.

So good soil seems to be the result of letting some stuff go, die even, perhaps getting burned away and allowing room for life-promoting organisms to do their work.  The same may be said of our hearts.  To be receptive to the word of the kingdom, we may need to let some old, false ideas go, die even.  To let idols go or have them taken from us may feel as painful as having them burned away, but letting them become compost may be the first step in making healthier soil.  Letting in life-promoting, wholeness-producing understandings of Jesus and the true nature of God’s reign can turn worthless clay into soil good for planting.  We can be the good soil in which seeds take root and grow into healthy, seed-bearing grain. Who wouldn’t want to be part of making God’s bumper crop of growth and new life?

But perhaps Jesus has another good word for us in this parable: not just exhortation—come on, be good, soil!—but  explanation and reassurance that has to do with the sower rather than the soil.  Perhaps Jesus has an invitation for us to be sowers and not just soil.

For the early Church, for those in whom the word of the kingdom initially took root and brought healing, peace, and joy, there was still a conundrum:  why doesn’t everyone who hears the word believe?  Why is what is so plain to us so imperceptible to others?  Why, when we can say, “Jesus is Lord,” even at the risk of our lives, don’t others get it?  What’s wrong here?

We may wonder some of the same things.  Faith in Jesus is important to us.  We go to church.  We’re here listening to this sermon. Why isn’t everyone?  Why are we the minority in our community, showing up, giving, serving, while all around us there are people who choose sports or coffee or sleep over what makes sense to us?  Why are churches getting smaller or struggling?  Is there something wrong with the word?  Is the seed not what we thought it was? Are we wasting our time?  Is there something else we should let take root in our hearts? Keeping soil good for planting can be hard work sometimes, and we want to know, is it worth it?  Did the sower get it wrong?

To the first disciples, to the early Church, to us, Jesus says, there is nothing wrong with the seed.  The sower is dependable.  But here’s what happens when the seed falls on different kinds of ground.  Trust the sower.  Trust the seed.  Be good soil.

Be good soil, but take a clue from the sower too. The sower’s approach to sowing is carefree, to say the least. The sower flings seed willy-nilly as he goes, with seeming disregard for where the seed will end up.  Shouldn’t the precious seed be saved for careful deposit in some meticulously prepared narrow furrow where it has a better chance of germination and survival?  Not with this sower.  To this sower, it’s as if the seed is so precious, he can’t hold on to it—it has to be shared.  To hold onto the seed would be to squander it.  This sower’s method seems to be to fling the seed as he goes, letting it land where it will, and keep going. This sower covers a lot of ground, not sticking to one pathway or field or territory.  The point, for this sower, is to sow.  So he does.

What if Jesus’ word for us has as much to do with the sower as the soil?  The sower is often taken to be God or Jesus, and that’s a good analogy.  God in Jesus flung the seed of the word of the kingdom wherever he went, and it found good soil in some places where others thought nothing good or holy could grow.  God in Jesus never said a word about some people deserving to hear good news and others not, although he did suggest once that a fig tree that sounds a lot like a group of people might benefit from a heaping application of compost (Luke 13:6-9).  Jesus sowed the word of the kingdom, wherever he went.  He himself was even buried like a seed in the soil, and from that sowing, God brought forth an unimaginable harvest.

But in the explanation of the parable, Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the sower.”  He just says that the sower sows the word, wherever the sower is, wherever the sower goes, and sometimes the word gets snatched away by the devil, and sometimes people fall away because the following is costly and risky, and sometimes the cares of the world choke the word, and sometimes, sometimes, the word bears a ridiculously abundant harvest.

What if Jesus is not only saying to be good soil, to be open and receptive, to let dead and death-dealing ideas die, and to welcome all that is holy and life-giving to make room and a hospitable reception for the word?  What if Jesus is also saying, “Sow!”  Don’t worry about whether you think the soil you’re walking over is good or bad, receptive or not.  Don’t be saving up seed for the places you think will be the most fertile.  This seed is so precious, it has to be shared, and there’s plenty more seed where that came from.  Not every bit of fruitful sowing is going to happen in the tidy rows of our pews, although by God’s grace it can happen even there.

There is so much seed to be sown.  Fling it.  Toss it.  Share it.  Get out there. Sow.

Amy Richter serves as rector of St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis, Md., and teaches New Testament at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. She is married to the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pagano, with whom she has co-authored two collections of sermons: A Man, a Woman, a Word of Love, and Love in Flesh and Bone–Exploring the Christmas Mystery. She is also the author of Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew, which examines intersections of 1 Enoch’s story of the fallen angels and the infancy narratives of Matthew.

Download the sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost (A).

Groaning: The soundtrack of creation, 6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014

July 20, 2014

Genesis 28:10-19a and Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 (or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or Isaiah 44:6-8 and Psalm 86:11-17); Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If you go into any gym and find the section where people are pumping iron, you will hear a lot of grunting and groaning. Weightlifters often groan. They groan as they strain to push weights off of their chests, or over their heads, or pull and heave them off the floor.

Engines straining also groan. If you strap a heavy trailer to a pickup truck and point it uphill, you will hear the engine groan. Gears push against gears, the engine revs, and the truck groans as it strains forward.

This is the sound of creation. Groaning is the sound of creation. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

This is a vivid image. Perhaps it isn’t such a fantastic metaphor for women who have actually experienced labor pains, but it reminds us of the difficult work of creation. That work can be hard. That work can be groan-inducing.

Groaning happens in a gap – a gap between what we are trying to do and what we hope to do. Groaning reminds us that the time spent in the gap between what is and what could be is a place of hard work.

Our readings from the New Testament today are about living in this gap. We hear about the gap between creation as God intends and wills it, and where we are now. Paul describes how to, somehow, live in optimism and hope in a world that so often doesn’t fulfill what God has promised to us. He calls this life in the Spirit. Paul’s whole ministry, in a way, was driven to close this gap.

Paul felt that he had seen the fulfillment of creation in Jesus, he knew that fulfillment was within reach. He also knew the communities he preached to still lived with injustice, war, poverty and suffering. He knows both the glory that is to come and the very present sufferings of the present time.

He exhorts the Christians in Rome to live in the Spirit, because he also sees the glory that is just beyond the gap. A life in the Spirit is a life characterized by the confidence that through Christ we have been freed from all the things that can increase our suffering. A life in the Spirit is a life lived free of hatred and violence, and instead filled with joy and reconciliation. A life in the Spirit is a way to live in the gap between what is and what shall be, in joyful exertion, not in desperation.

The gospel parable also speaks to life in the gap. The Reign of God – a reign that Jesus preached was here and now – is described as glorious. Jesus compares it to a grain field. A field of grain is the source of not just one loaf of bread, but an abundance of bread. This is an image of an abundance of what was, and for many still is, the basic food, the basic source of life. Yet, in the midst of this vision of an abundant life, there are weeds. The weeds gum up the works. They cannot be removed easily. The parable today is about having to wait in the gap – in a world of both abundance and weeds. The parable is there to comfort those who live in the gap with the assurance that at the end, the weeds will not ruin the harvest.

It is extremely difficult to live in a gap. It is difficult to see the glory beyond the horizon and still live in a place that is not yet fully glorified. The first Christians must have felt this very strongly. Those who actually knew Jesus had known in their minds and felt in their souls the goodness and love of God in creation, the Reign of God in the here and now. Paul had seen the glory of the risen Christ, and his conviction, faith and excitement must have filled the minds and souls of the people in the churches he planted. Yet, just outside the door of each house church, every time the communion meal ended and people returned to their lives, they were confronted by the realities of a world that did not meet that vision.

The parables Jesus told about the end of time, the words Paul gave to his communities, were written to help those communities understand and overcome the gap between what is and what ought to be.

They are also words written for today. Christians still live in the gap. Many know the feeling of God’s love and have experienced it in their lives. Many have seen it in grand acts of compassion and small daily acts of kindness. Christians rejoice when justice triumphs and celebrate when sickness turns to health. These are signs of the Reign of God come near. Yet, people everywhere also wake daily to news of war and rumors of war, of violence in homes and communities, of soul-crushing poverty in every country, of injustice, and all the many ways the dignity inherent in every person is neglected.

As Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, Christians are reminded now – we do not hope based on what we see. Christian hope is based on the confidence and assurance that the risen Christ is present in the world, bringing all things to what they are meant to be, closing the gap. God’s focus is on closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. This is the work of God from the beginning of creation. To be Christian is to join in this work, for all people are children of God, part of that creation coming into being.

The way to join in this work is to live a life in the Spirit. This isn’t a life that tries to ignore the gap. It is a life that can stride confidently into the gap – angered at injustice, grieving at suffering, striving and straining and groaning.

Groaning is the soundtrack of creation. It is the sound of the gap closing, of the Spirit overcoming resistance. Life in the Spirit strains and groans to close the gap. It is a good, honest groaning, the soundtrack of what will be coming into being.

Life in the Spirit is a life that closes the gap between the weight on the chest and the weight lifted high and triumphantly overhead. Life in the Spirit closes the gap between the engine straining against the gears and finally reaching full speed, running like a well-oiled machine.

Christians are to be gap closers. Christians are to see the distance between what should be and what is, and strain, and heave, and work, and lift to close that gap. It may be necessary to groan, but the groans sing the soundtrack of creation.

May we stay true in the struggle, groaning if need be, laughing at our groaning when we can. The gap is closing, let us hear the soundtrack of creation as we raise our voices in work and strain and joy.

 

— The Rev. Matt Seddon is an archaeologist-turned-priest who focuses on multicultural ministry, social justice and care for our environment. As of this sermon he is living in a gap. He is currently transitioning from serving as vicar to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in West Valley City, Utah, to serving as priest-in-charge for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

Sowing the Word of God, 5 Pentecost, Proper 10 (A) – 2014

July 13, 2014

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14]; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

“You are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9)

We don’t often think of it, but of all the New Testament literature, St. Paul’s letters are the oldest sources we have about Jesus – predating the gospels by a couple of decades. And Paul writes that for those who are “in Christ,” and “Christ is in them,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” This ought to strike us as an astonishing assertion. Not something we should take for granted.

And we might ask, just how does this “Spirit of God,” this Christ, come to dwell in us?

“Us” is the key word here, since St. Paul writes in the plural – something the English translation cannot indicate. Paul rarely speaks of an individual’s relationship to Christ. He speaks almost exclusively of the individual in the context of the faith community – the community of Christ’s Body, the priesthood of all believers. How does Christ and the Spirit of God come to “dwell in us”?

Along comes the Parable of the Sower, rich with varied depths of meanings to help us see just what things, as our collect for today urges, we “ought to do,” and just how we might find ourselves equipped with the “grace and power to accomplish them,” and which things very well may prepare ourselves as a community to receive Christ and the Spirit of God into our midst – so that God’s spirit might “dwell” among us, a technical word in the Greek for pitching a tent, setting up shop, moving into a neighborhood.

And the first thing we might notice is the repetition, “A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed … .” That is, this is no random person scattering seed, hoping gravity and good luck will take care of the rest. This sower is sowing, which points to a practiced skill. This seed goes where it is supposed to go. No soil is left bare. No soil is overplanted. Yet, even with such a sower, some seed lands on the road, or on stones, or among thorns.

Vincent van Gogh, a 19th-century Dutch artist, understood this. He understood that the seeds were God’s Word of the Kingdom – and van Gogh knew, as we all know, that Christ is God’s Word of the Kingdom. Christ, the Word of God’s Kingdom, came to proclaim a message: I will set you free; I won’t let you be anything but holy, good and free.

Now what most people do not know is that the young van Gogh set off to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Protestant pastor. He spent some years evangelizing, bringing this good news of God’s Word to the poor, beginning with mine workers in Borinage, Belgium. During this time he was able to identify with the miners, their families and their lifestyles. His religious beliefs made him want to alleviate spiritual and physical suffering.

Only later did he turn to painting as another way to express his desire to bring people closer to God, closer to each other and closer to themselves. In 1888 he painted “The Sower,” an important work in the history of art, and surely a scene related to our story here in Matthew. One sees the sower, practiced in the art of sowing, deliberately planting the seed in the soil. For van Gogh the color yellow symbolized faith, triumph and love. The color blue represented the divine – and so he combines these colors so they seem to move together, showing the relationship of all living things. And there is something holy, good and free in the figure of “The Sower” – who, in the parable, of course, is God in Christ planting the Good News of God’s Kingdom in the soil of our hearts.

And the very thought that this seed, the Word of God, could yield a hundredfold would be heard by the farmers and fishermen Jesus addresses as simply fantastic! No seed known yields such bounty. Maybe tenfold, twentyfold or even thirtyfold, but 60 or 100 is unprecedented, unknown – simply unimaginable! We are meant to respond with awe that God’s Word possesses such grace and power. We are meant to want this Word planted in the soil of our own hearts, where we can tend to it, hear it, and be transformed a hundredfold ourselves. What a truly awesome gift from an awesome God.

Of course, the dangers of not tending to it are outlined. It is a parable of self-analysis: Are we fertile, well-tilled, deeply mulched soil? Or are we rocky ground? Do we welcome and make opportunities to tend to God’s Word every day? Or do we spend more time tending to the thorns of wealth and the cares of the world, such that the Word yields nothing?

Many who first heard Jesus tell this story figured out its meaning: We are the soil, the seed of God’s Word comes to rest in us, and for those who till and water and mulch and care for God’s Word, we become sowers of the Word ourselves – like the young Vincent van Gogh, like St. Paul, like the fishermen, tenant farmers, soldiers and others who first heard this story.

Like the skilled sower, may we become more practiced in letting the Word take root in our lives so we might begin to feel and to know that what St. Paul says is true: “We are in the Spirit, God’s Spirit dwells in us.”

God’s son Jesus desires to pitch his tent and plant his Word in our hearts and minds and souls so that we might truly become holy, good and free!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Let anyone with ears listen!, Proper 10 (A) – 2011

July 10, 2011

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14]Romans 8:1-11Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Southern California is a maze of concrete freeways: two lanes, four lanes, eight lanes, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, special-use lanes, bus lanes, peak-hour reversible-direction lanes, and more. A literal maze of concrete interconnecting over 8,000 square miles.

Southern California drivers fear the radio announcement that a sig alert has been issued on their route. A “sig alert” is when there’s a traffic incident that will tie up two or more lanes of a freeway for a couple of hours or longer. At these times, traffic comes to a complete standstill. There’s great irony in being stopped on the freeway beneath a sign warning of a maximum speed of 65 miles per hour; during a sig alert, 65 inches per hour is more likely.

During a sig alert, some drivers become impatient. They honk, pound their fists on the dashboard, or even get out of their cars to try to see what’s going on. However, more patient drivers, knowing that they are powerless to change the situation, might take note of their surroundings. And if they do so, they’ll see that through the feet of concrete and rebar that make up the freeways, there are tiny cracks. And through those cracks, weeds and small flowers have somehow managed to take root and grow. Talk about hostile ground!

Today’s gospel reading from Matthew is the familiar parable about the sower. The sower who indiscriminately sows seed in different types of ground, and the relative success, or lack thereof, of that seed to take root, grow, and flourish based on the soil type on which it falls.

This is the first parable that appears in the Gospel of Matthew. The New Interpreter’s Bible explains that the Greek word for “parable” is parabole, which simply means “something cast beside,” something to explain or clarify. But it isn’t quite that simple. In Jesus’ parables, something from everyday life is “cast beside” something else, often in new and unexpected ways, to open the listeners’ hearts to new truths that may have different meanings in different situations. As Biblical scholar and professor David Mosely noted in a recent lecture, parables are not Aesop’s Fables that we can distill down to a one-line teaching that is applicable to all situations. The meanings are polyvalent, having more than one strain, and are often difficult to discern.

But in today’s gospel reading, we are fortunate that Jesus actually provides an interpretation. This parable is one of the few times when Jesus explains what he means. From his explanation we can ask ourselves, “What type of ground do we provide for God’s seed?”

Is your heart like the path in today’s parable, impenetrable to God’s word? Are you like the hard, concrete patch of freeway, impenetrable to the seed of God’s love to break your surface and transform your grey, exhaust-stained surface? Maybe you remember a time on your own spiritual journey when you were closed to the Christian message. Or maybe you came here today as a favor to a friend or family member, but you didn’t expect anything in your life to change. You’re not really receptive to the Word to break open your life and change you forever. If not, that’s OK. For everything there is a season, and from today’s parable we learn that God is an indiscriminate sower, always there with an infinite supply of seed should the smallest crack appear in the surface of your heart.

Or maybe your heart is rocky ground. Maybe the Word of God took root in your life at some time in the past, but then hard times came along and the ground became hostile for your faith growth.

A young Episcopal widower tells a story about how, after the death of his spouse, a group of Christians from another worshipping community came to him. They assumed he was angry with God, blaming God, and ready to close off his heart. He remembers being a bit perplexed; his experience was that God was there, grieving deeply, and sustaining, supporting, and holding him in the palm of God’s hand. This man’s seeds of faith had been properly watered and nourished, and had grown into a faith that sustained him during a very hard time.

Maybe in your life you’ve come to a point where you’ve been angry at God, pointing a finger in blame. It’s easy to do. Most of us don’t navigate the freeway of life without hitting a major pothole or even coming across a bridge that has been washed out. But if we have been open to the Word of God and have nourished that Word in a worshipping community that proclaims a compassionate God of love, hard times become a greater opening for God’s love to flourish and grow rather than faith-destroying obstacles.

Maybe your heart is surrounded by thorns. Maybe you’ve heard the Word of God, but the lure of all that the secular world offers has diverted your spiritual journey. Much like coming across a “road closed” or “detour” sign on the freeway, you were on the right path, but earthly cares diverted you. There are the obvious diversions, including wealth, power, addiction, and lust. But there are the not-so-obvious ones as well, such as complacency or self-pity, or even a preoccupation with good things, like work and volunteer activities. To avoid diversion on our road of faith, we must make sure that all we do in this life branches from the stalk of God’s Word growing in our hearts.

And finally, there are the lucky ones. Those followers of Christ who are open to the Word of God, understand, and yield a great crop. Comparatively, it is like being stuck on the freeway during a sig alert next to a beautiful and lush park. You look from your vantage point at the poor flowers who have struggled to grow in the hostile environment of a crack in the cement and compare their experience to the experience of the trees, flowers, lush grasses, and shrubs growing on the adjacent ground. Those trees and shrubs never struggled; never felt the rush of a semi-truck over their surface. They were never choked by exhaust. For them, growth has been seamless. If your spiritual journey has been like that of a tree in the park, give thanks. You are fortunate. Pray for the flowers trying to grow through the freeway below, be patient, and help to nourish those other flowers in whatever way you can.

This parable ends with Jesus saying, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Yes, from this parable we can extrapolate that 75 percent of the seed will fall on ground that ultimately will not yield fruit. But we also learn that God is an indiscriminate sower. That God continues to cast seed, regardless of the type of ground. And that ultimately, against the odds, God’s seed bears fruit and yields. And that is the Good News. Let anyone with ears listen.
— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson currently serves as priest-in-charge at Saint David’s Episcopal Church in San Diego. Prior to moving to San Diego she served at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City for over three year in the areas of strategic planning and collaboration, Center direction, and small church ministries. She has also served in congregations in New Zealand and Carmel, Calif. She is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and a proud mum of three teens and a tween.

God gives us all we need, Proper 10 (A) – 2008

July 13, 2008

Genesis 25:19-34 and Psalm 119:105-112 [or Isaiah 55:10-13 and Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14]Romans 8:1-11Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Today’s gospel reading is very familiar – the parable of the four soils. Many of us learned it in Sunday school. Millions enjoyed the graphic enactment of the parable in the movie “Godspell.” For centuries, paintings and stained-glass art have represented it. Easy to remember because of the vivid description, we readily envision an ancient farmer striding through a rough field with a bag hanging on one side as he casts handfuls of seed on the other. We can also imagine a wider-angle view around the field – with birds flying over a hard-packed path, rocks among shallow earth, and thorny weeds growing menacingly.

At the same time, anyone familiar with a twenty-first century farming community will recognize that the parable presents an awfully peculiar and unproductive method of agriculture. Modern practices include a much more efficient operation – a neater, more productive one, with nothing but rich soil devoid of rocks and sprayed with weed retardant. Paths do not cross fields; tractors even plow within a few feet of farm houses and barns. Sophisticated implements plant seeds precisely and nothing is left to chance.

Jesus undoubtedly would be unimpressed, because he was not really interested in telling us about growing crops. He simply took a familiar activity of his time and used it to illustrate an important factor in human life. From this perspective, the lessons are as important today as they were 2,000 years ago. Though our agricultural techniques are much different from those of former centuries, our lives are not so different from those who lived in Biblical times.

We might pause to observe that in trying to apply the parable to our lives, the odds are against us: three kinds of bad soil and only one that is truly productive. Yet the Christian life is never free of challenge and our presence in church today reminds us that it is worth the effort. Today’s challenge comes from Jesus’ wonderful extended metaphor that can help us discipline our lives and provide helpful self-evaluation. If we have the courage to examine ourselves in light of the four kinds of soils, we can become more like what God hopes for us.

How can we clean out the rocks and the weeds that infect us? How can we avoid pathways that are useless? How can we turn ourselves into well-tilled, well-fertilized soil? What can we do to help God’s seed take root in us and empower us to produce loving, spirit-filled fruit? How can we so live that our story can become one with a more beneficial ending – one in which little that God gives us has fallen among weeds or rocks or worthless avenues?

What are the aspects of our lives that tend to be so hard-packed that God cannot enter? Where are our blind spots? What spiritual necessities do we tend to avoid? What psychological encrustations keep us from opening up so the power of the spirit can transform us? How often are we apathetic about the cries of human need? In what “sounds of silence” do we hear but not listen? What mind tricks do we play to protect ourselves from risking intimacy? What can we do to soften our hard side and open ourselves to letting God motivate us for the sake of the gospel?

Where do we find in ourselves spiritual and emotional shallowness? In what ways do we lack commitment to God and the values of God? When do we tend to speak big but act little? How have we been “flashes in the pan” without cooking anything up for the good? How often do we grab hold of a new cause that comes along without following through with it? How often have our well-intended promises failed to materialize?

What can we do to reach a greater depth of character and find the integrity of our faithfulness to live up to the values of the Baptismal Covenant and Ten Commandments?

And, woe unto the thorns and weeds of our lives! What distractions do we allow to keep up being about the work of God? How does our busy-ness with one thing or another keep us from following the steps of our Lord? What banality saps away our spiritual energy? Which “weeds” choke us out? What temptations stand between us and God? Materialism? The drive for power? The desire of popularity and success in the eyes of others? Putting ourselves first?

What can we do to destroy parasites that feed off of and destroy the good, allowing us to follow through on the command to love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

How well we examine ourselves and clear away the impediments to growth will determine how much of the “rich soil” our lives entail. Still, there is more to do if we continue following this metaphor of suitable soil. To produce an abundant crop, we can further extend the imagery of agriculture. To increase the value of the inner environment of our lives, we need to do what farmers do after planting seed: tilling, fertilizing, pruning, providing the proper balance of acidity and alkalinity.

Envision how this process can work in making your Christian life richer. Let your imagination go; search for ways to apply the metaphorical examples. Think about plowing and hoeing, for example. Loosening soil and exposing it to air might remind us to keep a fresh perspective and constantly expose ourselves to new ways of understanding what God has in mind for us in every situation.

Fertilizing? Can anything better illustrate how much we need to have added to our consciousness? Read and understand the Bible. Hear and understand stories of the saints of old and the committed examples of contemporary Christians whom we admire. Emulate them and follow in their steps.

Pruning? It’s a matter of priorities, isn’t it? Keep and nurture the portion of our spiritual growth that is most in keeping with God and cut away what is less productive.

Supplying the proper ratio of acid to base? It’s almost always about balance, isn’t it? For instance, it’s not a matter of worship and prayer verses good works and social action, but attending to both, letting each inform the other. Finding the right priority for the given moment, emphasizing what love most demands at a certain time, can produce the most abundance when we keep the many aspects of our Christian lives in proper balance.

God created us good and with every potential to find fullness of life. God gives us all we need to well receive the seed – the seed that represents God’s love and the values of God’s realm.

Finally, consider what lies far beyond anything we can do in making the “soil” of our inner lives the most receptive for God to work in us. Let us not forget that only God produces the miracle of growth, the wonder of creation. God gives us all we need for love to grow and for us to put it to use, enriching ourselves and those around us.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of “John E. Hines: Granite on Fire” (Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.